Today I have embarked on the project I’ve been meaning to begin since halfway through my stint at Chicago: trying to restore some control over, and some sense of order concerning the organization of, my personal data.
All in all I have some 16 gigabytes of personal data, which won’t sound like much to many people out there until I make clear that when I say “personal data” I specifically exclude multimedia: movies, photos, software, downloads, music, email, etc.
That’s right, it’s 16 gigabytes of miscellaneous Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org, Acrobat, and plain text files spread across several thousand folders and several tens of thousands of files with often incoherent or inconsistent naming schemes and a particularly unhelpful ad-hoc folder structure with lots of duplication and overlap.
It’s a nightmarish mess.
It wasn’t always this way; my data was always meticulously organized. Don’t forget that I entered the computer+network age with a head start; I was coding software to catalog directory trees in 1986 when it was still difficult to explain to most people who had touched a computer (still a minority then) just what a “folder” on a computer was or why it was important to remember a file’s “name” if you wanted to open it later.
But somewhere during my masters degree at a top three university, while simultaneously working on my fifth and sixth books and running several websites, not to mention planning to move and looking for a job, I let it get away from me. Since then, I’ve always had more pressing projects. I’ve literally been “behind schedule” vis-a-vis my own “high priority” immediately critical tasks since sometime in early 2004.
With the submission of what I expect to be my final “course paper” of all time, my shift in status to an advanced-standing Ph.D. student, the submission of my course transfer paperwork from Chicago, and spring break staring me full in the face at one of my teaching institutions, I am more “caught up” than I’ve been in years and can finally justify a moment to try to clean up around the digital house.
I’ve been at this since this morning. There are days of work left to go. Today I have rationalized my directory structure and begun to file recognizable things by date, category, and type, renaming them in the process to be more informative without having to be opened. What remains are “temp folders” full of hundreds of files whose names are unclear or whose relationships to other revisions of similar files are unclear.
Things I found in the process:
– I still have full manuscripts for four unpublished books
– I’d forgotten an entire book killed just before it went to press
– My 1990 pre-smarthost email address was “neb!pl21%hellgate.utah.edu”
– Like so many others, I was naive and overconfident as an undergrad
– I have also lost (I think) some data I wish I hadn’t
– I need a new indexing system; I’ve outgrown my homegrown database
– I’ve been a writer since long before I was published
– The universe of personal data twenty years on is massive
– Many of the selves I have been are strangers to me now
It’s time to start a backup and hit the sack. Tomorrow is another long day wading through, and carefully renaming and filing, piles and piles of data from years past.